ANTIDOTE "The construction work on this new school is still under way, but the project may be abandoned should the people choose not to vote for BN," Telang Usan assemblyperson Dennis Ngau, of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), the dominant party in Sarawak BN, told local daily Borneo Post on April 30.

Dennis Ngau said this when was campaigning for Anyi Ngau, BN's parliamentary candidate for Baram. These two Ngaus have no blood ties and the state seat of Telang Usan falls under the Baram constituency. 

According to the Borneo Post, a BN mouthpiece, development in the deprived Baram district may be "abandoned" if PKR wins Sunday's general election.
Dennis was citing an example of a school being built in a small village, Long Panai, that would "ensure every child has access to quality education, even in the rural areas".

Dennis's message - that BN will stop building the school and will not baulk at depriving rural children of a "quality education" if Baram rejects the BN - appears somewhat desperate.

NONEBN has held this vast constituency since 1995, but faces defeat in Sunday's election.
There have been angry protests against the BN government of the state for allocating native customary rights (NCR) land to politically influential companies for timber extraction, oil palm plantations and for a giant hydroelectric power plant.

Internal sabotage within BN is another handicap. The three-term Baram MP Jacob Dungau Sagan, vice-president of the Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP), a junior partner in the state BN, was replaced with Anyi, who enjoys the favour of Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud's all-powerful PBB. 

This surprise was concealed well: Dennis publicly pledged support for Sagan as the "sole nominee" as recently as April 2.
Taib's PBB is used to having its own way, but PKR will surely benefit from discontent among SPDP supporters.
Ministers play the race card

Another symptom of the panic on the part of Sarawak BN surfaced on April 27. Taib's high-handed deputy at the resource planning ministry, Awang Tengah Ali Hassan, tried to play the ethnic politics card. 

According to the front page of the Borneo Post, Awang Tengahdeclared that "if Pakatan Rakyat becomes the government, their policy would be to introduce the ‘Malaysian Malaysia' concept, which abolishes the right to NCR ownership. Right now they are merely fanning NCR issues for political mileage." 

Sarawak DAP secretary Chong Chien Jen and the state's PKR election director See Chee How promptly filed police reports against Awang Tengah, alleging "slanderous and seditious statements." See condemned political polemic that incites hatred and threatens voters. 

Hudud forum Baru BianBoth the DAP and the PKR have based their campaigns around the "twin terrors" of endemic corruption and land grabs from NCR communities.

"All this talk of us wanting to abolish (NCR) is nonsense," retorted a furious Baru Bian (right), the Sarawak PKR leader. 

"How can we be accused of such things when for so many years we have been fighting for NCR? Let me state clearly that one of Pakatan's promises is to set up a Land Commission to investigate NCR land claims to right the wrongs done to the people by those in authority."

Baru's law firm represents natives in more than 100 NCR court cases against the BN administration. 

NCR land is protected under the constitution and state law, but the Taib government has shown little regard for court rulings in favour of native communities.

Following the police reports, Awang Tengah performed a sheepish U-turn. Two days later, he said that he had been misquoted. 

"I never said the opposition Pakatan Rakyat would abolish NCR if it forms the government but posed a question on what would happen to NCR rights in Sarawak. 

NONE"The right to NCR lands is a privilege to only bumiputeras, as DAP's 'Malaysian Malaysia' goes against any special privileges, and that is a question on the minds of all Bumiputeras in Sarawak," Awang Tengah said.

James Masing (right), Sarawak's land minister, did not appear to have been adequately briefed on the U-turn. The Borneo Post, had himparroting Awang Tengah on April 28: "PKR said they are fighting for NCR. But what is there to look after when there is no more NCR if a ‘Malaysian Malaysia' is implemented?" 

Baru Bian responded calmly, with a call to Awang Tengah and James Masing to declare their personal assets, and those of their families. Both ministers enjoy luxurious lifestyles.

Desperate BN campaign tactics

"Threats of deprivation of services and rights are a form of political violence in Sabah and Sarawak," Bersih's Irene Fernandez warnedon May 1.
But these threats appear to be part of the fabric of everyday life for Sarawak's rural voters.

The venom of the two ministers' attacks on Pakatan might be considered incongruous, since neither is standing for election to Parliament. Both were elected as assemblymen in Sarawak's separate state elections in 2011. 

The intensity of the campaigning, and the amount of money BN has thrown at voters, also appears at odds with Sarawak's projected election results. 

BN has conceded it will lose four to eight out of the 31 parliamentary seats in Sarawak. Pakatan's modest prediction is it will win only 11 to 13 seats. BN therefore expects a resounding victory in Sarawak.

Even so, the stakes could not be higher for Taib's state cabinet. The mammoth urban Pakatan political rallies, or 'mega ceramah', suggest a swing away from BN in the south of the peninsula. 

If Pakatan somehow wins a simple majority, against all odds, Taib and his ministers will face an inquisition from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission - the kid gloves will finally come off.

After 25 years of being in complete command, and of winning comfortable majorities in every election, BN ministers realise their fate is, for once, out of their own hands.

BN will win a handsome majority in Sarawak, but clear signs of desperation have emerged. The world outside Sarawak is changing.

KERUAH USIT is a human rights activist - ‘anak Sarawak, bangsa Malaysia’. This weekly column is an effort to provide a voice for marginalised Malaysians. Keruah Usit can be contacted atkeruah_usit@yahoo.com

~ Malaysiakini